Hey, look, it’s the neuroscience merry-go-round! I can never ride this one enough!
Men may not be from Mars and women may not be from Venus, but that doesn’t mean the sexes have the same wiring. Dr. Ruben Gur and his wife, Dr. Raquel Gur, two of the world’s premier experts on gender differences in the human brain, have been studying men and women for more than 30 years. The neuroscientists were the first to show, with brain imaging methods, that the sexes may not have the same hard wiring, after all.
Quick, everyone, to the television studios! We must use our power to reinforce some kind of stereotype!
For TODAY, Dr. Nancy Snyderman asked the doctors to use their MRI test on her and her husband, Doug, to see if their brains work differently. The results were, well, mind opening.
It turns out that Dr. Snyderman was able to decipher someone’s emotions from his facial expressions much more easily than Doug. His brain had to work harder.
As we can easily conclude from this rigerously controlled scientific demo, Dr. Nancy and her husband’s brains have clearly been different since birth, because as we know as soon as you’re born brain development stops. Those women and men – so naturally different. That’s evolution for ya.
Here I was hoping against hope to say “That NOT what the doctors are saying, you lazy MSN fucks!” but unfortunately…
HOLLY FIRFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For thousands of years, men and women have baffled each other by their differences.
DR. RUBEN GUR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: We are still the same animals. We haven’t changed physically since we were roaming the savannahs. We haven’t really changed in our brain. So all those differences that we were evolved into are still here.
FIRFER: These differences are the results of the hard wiring of our brains. Why is it that women seem to do all the talking and why are men considered the strong, silent types?
Dr. Ruben Gur of the University of Pennsylvania has been studying gender differences in the brain for more than 20 years. He says while men’s brains can be 10 to 15 percent larger in size, some research suggests women have more fibers that connect the two sides of the brain together in an area called the corpus colosum (ph). That would mean…
GUR: That there is more tissue available for transferring information between the two sides of the brain. That’s why we think that women have better inter-hemispheric communication.
The brain is so mysterious and interesting- we’d be more afraid of it if the research didn’t consistently allow us to spin theories that reinforce our existing gender stereotypes. Oh, wait, what just fell on my lap? Why, it’s a copy of The Mismeasure of Woman (Tavris, 1992). Let us quote extensively from it:
This is difficult for thise of us who are not expert in physiology, neuroanatomy, or medicine. We are easily dazzled by words like “lateralization” and “corpus callosum.” Besides, physiology seems so solid; if one study finds a difference between thre e male brains and three female brains, that must apply to all men and women. How do I know what my coprus callosum looks like? Is it bigger than a man’s? Should I care?
For some answers, I turned to researchers in biology and neuroscience who have critically examined the research and the assumptions underlying theories of sex differences in the brain. The first discovery of note was that, just like nineteenth-century researchers who kept changing their minds about which lobe of the brain accounted for male superiority, twentieth-century researchers keep changing their minds about which hemisphere of the brain accounts for male superiority. Originally, the left hemisphere was considered the repository of intellect and reason. The right hemisphere was the sick, bad, crazy side, the side of passion, instincts, criminality, and irrationality. Guess which sex was thought to have left-brain intellectual superiority? (Answer: males.) In the 1960s and 1970s, however, the right brain was resuscitated and brought into the limelight. Scientists began to suspect that it was the source of genius and inspiration, creativity and imagination, mysticism and mathematical brilliance. Guess which sex was now thought to have right-brain specialization? (Answer: males.)
It’s all very confusing. Today we hear arguments that men have greater left-brain specialization (which explains their intellectual advantage) and that they have greater right-brain specialization (which explains their mathematical and artistic advantage). Newsweek recently asserted as fact, for instance, that “Women’s language and other skills are more evenly divided between the left and right hemisphere; in men, such functions are concentrated in the left brain.”
But fundamentalists Smalley and Trent asserted that:
“most women spend the majority of their days and nights camped out on the right side of the brain [which] harbors the center for feelings, as well as the primary relational, language and communication skills…and make an afternoon devoted to art and fine music actually enjoyable.”
You can hear the chuckling from men who regar art museums and concert halls as something akin to medieval torture chambers, but I’m sure that the many men who enjoy art and fine music, indeed who create art and fine music, would not find that last remark so funny. Geschwind and Behan, of course, had argued that male specialization of the right hemisphere explained why men excel in art and fine music. But since Smalley and Trent apparently do not share these prissy female interestes, the relegate them to women – to women’s brains.
The two hemispheres of the brain do have different specialites, but it is far too simple-minded (so to speak) to assume that human abilites clump up in opposing bunches…
These qualifications about the interdependence of brain hemispheres have not, however, deterred those who believe that there are basic psychological differences between the sexes that can be accounted for in the brain.
(pp. 48-49, italics hers, boldface and typos mine.)
That was delicious. Here, have more:
It is sobering to read, over and over and over again in scholarly papers, the conclusions of eminent scientists who have cautioned their colleagues against generalizing about sex differences from poor data. One leader in brain-hemisphere research, Marcel Kinsbourne, observing that the evidence for sex differences “fails to convince on logical, methodological, and empirical grounds,” then asked:
“Why then do reputable investigators persist in ignoring [this evidence]? Because the study of sex differences in not like the rest of psychology. Under pressure from the gathering momentum of feminism, and perhaps in backlash to it, many investigators seem determined to discover that men and women ‘really’ are different. It seems that if sex differences (e.g., in lateralization) do not exist, then they have to be invented.”
These warnings have, for the most part, gone unheeded…Because these speculations fit the dominant beliefs about gender, however, they recieve far more attention and credibility than the warrant. Worse, the far better evidence that fails to conform to the dominant beliefs about gender is overlooked, disparaged, or as in Bleiers’s experience, remains unpublished.
(pp 52-53, italics hers, boldface and typos mine)
Fifteen years old. This book is fifteen years old. That means that it’s been more than fifteen years since scientists like the Gurs have been called out (by other, better scientists, no less) on the irresponsibility of taking minute differences in brain function, which clearly we still don’t understand, and chalking those wacky differences between men and women up to some extra brain mass here or some more fibers there. But hey, if it gets you on the Today! show, who the fuck cares, right? That kind of press looks great on funding applications.